The authors of two Rajesh Khanna biographies released recently – who’ll discuss their books at the Jaipur Literature Festival today – revisit the frenzy surrounding Bollywood’s original superstar, his films and his foibles.
The ultimate death scene
Rajesh Khanna was the quintessential superstar in every respect – crazy fans around him, crazier stories about him. The winsome boy-next-door personality, the loving glances, the occasional tilt of the head, the flutter of the eyelids and the earnest voice loaded with a disarming smile…
Rajesh Khanna was often discussed late into the nights and was a constant at women’s kitty parties, old women’s kirtans and in adolescent dreams. Those were the days when every woman wished for a lover, son or brother like Rajesh. Every character he enacted built up his on-screen image as the ultimate romantic. But sadly, it wasn’t the case in his real life. Reel to real was quite the opposite.
On screen, he seemed like the perfect son. In real life, he never even publicly acknowledged his real parents.
On screen, he was the perfect brother dancing to
Meri pyari baheniya banegi dulhaniya
. In real life he never talked about his real sisters, cooked up fictitious names in some of his interviews and even referred to his real brother as a ‘cousin’ to many.
On screen, he was the perfect lover. In real life, he did not stand by the woman he committed to (Dimple Kapadia), and did not commit to the women who stood by him (Anju Mahendru and Tina Munim).
Despite his phenomenal success, the media those days seldom talked about his blockbusters. The movie folklore was dominated just by the stories of his eccentricity, his indiscipline and the turmoil in his personal relationships.
The stories concluded that Rajesh Khanna was an over-possessive, insecure and spiteful character. Unfortunately, everyone believed this character sketch of the superstar. Throughout his life, this image remained intertwined with his name and deeply affected his career.
As I set out to write about the life and times of Rajesh Khanna, the question dangling in front of me was: how could a man who was adored by millions be as uni-dimensionally negative as often projected? How could such a magically charming man be as inconsistent in his behaviour?
Questioning such preconceived notions, I tried to understand who Rajesh Khanna truly was behind the superstar façade. I sifted through facts and opinions, gossips and myths until some hidden stories started fitting into the jigsaw puzzle.
His early life, before he came into the film industry, has hardly been documented till date. I was shocked to discover that he had been in complete denial of the existence of his biological parents.
The story I wrote introduces us to a young boy’s journey, one which looked for the same love, loyalty and security from his million fans that should have come from his real parents. ‘Parvardigar hum gareebon ka itna sakht imtehan na le, ki hum tere wajood se hi inkar kar dein’, once cried a drunk Rajesh Khanna looking into the midnight sky. It was definitely not only failure that drove him to despair.
Towards the end, Rajesh Khanna seemed to have found peace within himself. He patched up with most of the important people in his life. But a few days before his death, he was asked by a close friend if he was scared of dying. “Nahi yaar, darr varr nahi lag raha, but financially, better times had already come… I wanted to make some good films… magar kya karein, jana padega,” he said with a strange tenderness on his face which seemed to speak of unfulfilled dreams.
A dream to lay claim to the love of his fans, one last time. To perhaps believe he was loved and not given up on by everyone he ever trusted. And the fans did come back… on his death. Rajesh Khanna had always believed that death scenes gave him his biggest hit films.
This proved to be true even in his real-life death, with a frenzy of fans descending upon Mumbai roads to accompany his funeral procession. A quirk of destiny! That was how his life was always, reel to real, real to reel.
‘Babu Moshaye zindagi lambi nahi, badi honi chahiye’ said Rajesh Khanna in one of his most memorable roles. After writing the book, I believe in these words even more.
RIP Rajesh Khanna saab.
Yasser Usman is a TV journalist and the author of the recently published
Rajesh Khanna – The Untold Story of India’s First Superstar
Tweet to him @yasser_aks
Someone once said that writers incorrectly believe that it’s they who choose what books to write and it couldn’t be truer in my case. Although I had always fancied writing books on cinema and personalities that made millions dream the same dream, a book on Rajesh Khanna was never on the proverbial to-do list.
I was working on a book that explored the cultural impact
Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak
(1988), one of my favourite films, had on popular Hindi cinema when my editor at HarperCollins suggested a book on Rajesh Khanna.
Even though I had written a series of articles following the superstar’s death for my weekly columns across print and electronic media, a book on Rajesh Khanna wasn’t something that came naturally.
But seeing the sea of humanity that participated in the departed superstar’s final journey made me think about exploring the life and times of an actor who best represented the irony that popular Hindi cinema is. Here was a star who shined so bright that he blinded everything else and yet was soon lost in darkness and even forgotten at times.
For me, Rajesh Khanna mirrored the strange relationship popular Hindi cinema shares with its audience – in spite of being a cinema-crazy nation we sparingly explore commercial cinema beyond the obvious and barely discuss its sociological impact in a bigger context.
One of the big reasons for this could be the reluctance to speak on the part of the very people involved in popular films. This is something that I had to overcome at almost every stage while researching Rajesh Khanna. Much like the man himself, those who knew him, too, were forthright one moment and reserved the next.
Many people simply refused to talk about him, some were convinced that irrespective of what they say, I’d portray him as a monster and a few insisted that I, too, like them should see ‘Kaka’ as the great soul that he was. For some strange reason, a lot of the industry folk didn’t want to speak so soon after his death but people far removed from films readily shared their personal Rajesh Khanna stories the moment they got to know I was working on a biography.
The reception to the book was accompanied with curiosity about the strokes it’d paint the image of Rajesh Khanna in, and in that context, the response has been welcoming.
Besides the largely positive reviews from critics, many people have written in, complimenting on the balanced focus between the films and the times of Rajesh Khanna as well as the man behind the phenomenon. Some even said that this was the first book they read on Bollywood.
To say that Rajesh Khanna was ever forgotten would be an understatement thanks to impassioned emails from some fans, who didn’t approve of the book’s criticism when it came to anything connected to Mr Khanna.
For a first book to strike a chord with its readers is the best compliment any writer could get and for it to go into a second print within eight weeks of its release only makes it more special.
Gautam Chintamani is the author of the best-selling book
Dark Star: The Loneliness of Being Rajesh Khanna
Tweet to him @gchintamani
From HT Brunch, January 25, 2015
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